While the Prince Alfred Guard was established in 1856 they did not have a permanent home until the drill hall had been built in 1882, some 26 years later, the reason for this being that as a volunteer regiment it was difficult to get a permanent home of its own and would have to prove itself as part of the community, which it did in 1877 wining its first of numerous battle honours at Umzintzani.
The grant for the land at the top of Castle Hill was granted by Sir Phillip Wodehouse in 1864, the grant came about due to captain Wylde and other officers in 1863 deciding to petition the Governor for some land for a drill hall and unit headquarters. On 27 October 1864 a piece of land was granted to the Port Elizabeth Volunteer rifle corps on the hill as a site “for a drill house and gymnasium for the use of the aforementioned volunteers and for no other purpose or use whatsoever”. The land was also to be held in trust for the Port Elizabeth town council. The petition by Captain Wylde and other officers had provided a site that was to remain the home of Prince Alfred’s Guard for well over a hundred years. An interesting fact that I came across while reading “Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days” was that this site was one a few that had been suggested between 1855–57 for the building of Port Elizabeth’s first hospital.
Money had to be raised to erect a building and it was only 15 September 1880 that the foundations of the drill hall and gymnasium were dug. What arose on what at that stage would have been a windswept hillside in 1882 was the building that you see today. The cost of construction was 8 086 pounds this included a roof from England, a stage, billiard room and reading room. The entrance was built to enable 4 men marching abreast to enter an interesting point is that over the main gate is a shield surmounted by a knights helm, on the shield are two fleurs de lys above a Maltese cross. None of these devices are however connected to the regiment. The first company to drill in the new hall was no 4 company.
A further improvement in 1893 was the addition of a first floor and in addition to the Officers quarters, Orderly room, Non Coms mess room and Quarter masters store the hall now contains a Billiard room, Recreation room and Gymnasium.
Today the hall is still the headquarters of the PAG and houses the regimental museum as well as other interesting military exhibits. As you pass the Drill hall there is a sign giving the following information to passers by or those who may be walking the Donkin heritage trail……. “ This is the headquarters of Prince Alfred Guard, Port Elizabeths Volunteer Regiment founded in 1856. The drill hall was opened in 1882 and the first floor added in 1893, the adjoining land was once a parade ground. In addition to its military function the hall has been the scene of balls, theatrical productions and also been used as a roller skating rink and hospital”.